School Board Questions Comptroller’s Audit Claims
Bemus Point Central School District officials describe two audit reports released Friday by the New York State Comptroller’s Office as “very misleading” and “disheartening.”
In each report, the district submitted its response questioning the audit process and how the information was reported. Bemus Point Superintendent Michael Mansfield clarified to The Post-Journal that “the presentation of the information is what the board objected to.”
One audit report states the district “overestimated appropriations” of $3.1 million from the 2016-17 school year to the 2018-19 school year. The same report states the district “improperly restricted more than $260,000 in its trust and agency fund.” Furthermore, the state comptroller said the district exceeded the statutory surplus fund balance limit by $74,000 as of June 30, 2019.
Responding to the first report, the district states: “The Board is concerned with the overall order by which the Comptroller has chosen to present the data. It is our interpretation that leading with data depicting the District, ‘overestimated appropriation by $3.1 million over the three year period’ without detailing that the revenue shortfall for the same period totaled $2.5 million in the same area of the report will create unnecessary questions and concerns without the premise.”
Regarding the excess surplus fund balance, district officials said it is relevant to report that the percentage of its excess funds has decreased in prior years from 4.8% to 4.5%, “showing the districts continued efforts to comply with the law.”
A second audit report charges the district with a lack of transparency regarding a $16.5 million district-wide capital improvement project. Additionally, the comptroller’s report claimed the district “did not approve change orders or competitively bid seven change orders totaling $362,000 that exceeded the statutory bid limit” during the project.
Addressing the second report, the school district response states: “We understand the Comptroller’s desire for transparency. Our Board and the district’s administration strive for transparency with our community as one of our primary goals. We found this part of the draft report indicating our District’s lack of transparency to be disheartening and misleading.”
The district further cites planning meetings which the capital project was presented to the public in response to the state questioning the district’s transparency. Additionally, the district states in its response that the board was kept up to date with change orders during the process.
Barry Swanson, Bemus Point School Board president, provided a statement regarding the reports Friday.
“After taking seven months to review all records of the District, the Comptroller published their report on Financial Management because our surplus fund balance is currently one-half percent, or $75,000, over the four percent statutory limit,” Swanson told The Post-Journal. “The Board has expressed their objection to the misleading format in which the comptroller chooses to present these findings.
“The Board wishes to make the public aware that we take our duty to be fiscally responsible and transparent to our taxpayers very seriously,” he continued. “The full audit report and district response will be presented at the March board meeting.”
In the reports are key recommendations provided by the comptroller’s office. For the report dealing with the district’s fund balance, the state recommended Bemus Point officials and board members “adopt budgets that include reasonable estimates for appropriations and the amount of fund balance that will be used to fund operations; return the improperly restricted money to the general fund; and reduce surplus fund balance to comply with the statutory limit and use the excess funds in a manner beneficial to taxpayers.”
Regarding the second report dealing with the $16.5 million project, the state recommended that the district “present the capital project plan transparently to voters and properly approve all change orders and competitively bid change orders exceeding the statutory bidding limit.”
In the district’s response, included in the state reports, future corrective actions are also detailed including plans to be more transparent, to follow bid requirements and to present better budget estimates.
Mansfield noted that there is no penalty placed on the district as a result of the audit reports.